Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top Travel Moments: So-Far (so Good!)

I have traveled around a bit.  Put on a few miles (and probably pounds too!).  Ahh the memories.  Though most of them were with the constant companionship of my bear wrangler which quite frankly got annoying with the camera always on the go - like having your own papparazo,  But I digress.
On to the best moments:

Field of Dreams - Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland

We were staying in Rocky Harbour while visiting Gros Morne National Park.  The park itself is worth checking out for Fjords, interesting rock piles, and a mountain that someone will climb for you. 

We were driving around town, and someone in the group saw a lighthouse at the other end of town (think 5 km away, tops!).  So we drove there.  Walking from the parking lot to the lighthouse I started imagining things!  I started to imagine that I was walking across a field of teeny tiny berries, that were being squished by my paws.  The hallucination was so vivid, I was even smelling the berries.  Without thinking I lifted a paw and was immediately transported to home and Mom's strawberry freezer jam! The TASTE!  Oh the joy of it all!  If only it were real!

Well, it was!  I looked around and somehow I was in a meadow that was not covered in grass but covered in tiny wild strawberry plants.  As far as the eye could see!  To top it all off, they must have known I was coming because the put up this lovely "reserved" sign for me! (Dum-Dum didn't take any photographs of the berries of course!)

Don't believe everything you read

Lessons in Marzipan - Toledo, Spain

While traveling in Spain, the guidebook made several references to Toledo, and that it was famous for a several things. Don Quixote, Steel (swords), the Castle, the Cathedral, rip-off bistros that do not accept credit cards, and Marzipan (ears up).

I knew the Norther European version of Marzipan, which is the sugary, sticky almond paste, often sculpted and coloured into various shapes and animals or sold in "bricks".  This stuff is almond-y, sugary goodness!

Imagine my surprise and delight in learning that in Toledo, Marzipan refers to a sort of almond puff-pastry.  It is baked, goes all fluffy and is stuffed or filled with chocolate, jams, jellies, sweet!  I bought me a bag of that goodness for the train ride back to the hotel in Madrid!


Driving a Train - National Railway Museum, York, England

What young bear doesn't dream of driving a train!  They are big, go really really fast, and in Europe they almost always have a bar car or food service with yummy snacks!  BTW most train stations in Britain have counters that sell Cornish Pasties!  I recommend the Steak & Guinness ones!  They sure are filling and great to eat on the train.

So I went to the railway museum where I could get a closer look at some of my favourite things about trains!  They had all kinds of trains, including a bullet train from Japan, and several steam trains, and even one used by Queen Victoria!  They also had a replica of Stevenson's Rocket, one of the original trains.

I begged and pleaded to drive any of these trains but they said I was too small to see out the window while I was driving.  Then a nice lady (British people apparently like talking to stuffed bears) told me that there was a small train out back and that if I was really well behaved I might just get to drive it.

I have never been so well behaved in my life! (although the small train had no snacks, I got lots of free cookies on the big train going to Edinburgh)


Wineglass Bay and Peninsula Hike - Freycinet National Park, Tasmania, Australia
While visiting the park we stayed at a cabin connected to Freycinet Lodge, which is inside the national park,

The main attraction of the trip was Wineglass Bay Beach, which was recently listed as one of the top 10 remote beaches in the World.  While heading towards the beach, my bear wrangler got it in his head that we would first go to the Wineglass Bay Lookout (lots of stairs and uphill=BAD idea) and then hike down the the beach, cut through the peninsula to another beach, and head back to the lodge.

Well, you can see what a good idea THAT was.
It was on the return hike that we stopped for lunch, and the sun came out from behind the clouds, and except for the cool breeze and fleece sweaters required, you could swear you were in the Caribbean!  It was at the second beach that we ate the box lunch prepared by the lodge which included delicious chocolate chip walnut cookies.  By then I had forgotten about the lookout fiasco!
Cookie Break!

My Bestest pub night ever - Le Mouton Blanc - Maastricht, Netherlands

Sometimes when you are traveling in a strange place, and you don't know where to go, you leave the guidebooks behind and you opt for the pub or the bistro across the street.  In the case of Maastricht, this was easy enough to do.  Our room faced onto a pedestrian zone of sorts, and a pub / bistro that seemed to have good enough food.

The man that was serving us also showed me a traditional folk dance that I think translates to roughly: "Where's my Dessert?"

And then they appeared!  Desserts!  Yummy Desserts!  The Dance Worked!

Chocolate covered strawberries, Berry cheesecake, and Crème Brûlée!

That dance only worked once though.

So those are five of my favourite travel moments so far!  I am sure there will be more.  Stay tuned...


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I did it for the Cookies!

One of the things that every bear loves is cookies. They are pretty much an essential food group around here, and hardly a day goes by that I don't think about cookies or chocolate or cake, yummy yummy cake, or pizza, or beer, or cocoa, of coffee - coffee - coffee, or coffee, or chocolate, or cookies....

anyhow where was I? Oh yes, cookies!

'Cause I'm a very small stuffed bear I did have some help, but mostly it was me!

Now to let you in on a little secret: The recipes that the chocolate chip companies come up with are all right! Pretty good! Not bad! I doubt any of the chocolate chip people would go about baking bad chocolate chip cookies, that wouldn't be right.

HOWEVER: Chocolate Chip companies -- like all companies, are cautious. They never tell you to use enough chocolate chips in the cookies! I guess they don't want a Death by Chocolate Overload lawsuit or something - go figure!

I will be using the Hershey's Chipit's recipe.

Might as well give you a scary warning now: A word about egg beating machines - They don't just beat eggs. Be very careful around them! They are sneaky and love making helpless little bears fall into their clutches. Probably people too!

Now on to making cookies:

Get the oven turned on and set to 375 degrees F. HURRY! This is Important. The cookies aren't gonna cook themselves!

You will need some yucky dry ingredients including some that are boring but necessary to hold the chocolate chips together, otherwise you are making soup.
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Use unbleached 'cause who's gonna know, and who wants bleached cookies! (Most boring stuff on Earth! no real flavor and gets in your fur)
  • 1 cup of packed brown sugar, and I mean tightly packed into the cup! Not even another brown sugar bit would fit in there even if you really tried!
  • 1/2 cup of plain, ordinary sugar. (slightly boring)
  • 2/3 cup of large flake oats. Not quick oats, or minute oats, but the kind you have to cook for 10 whole minutes! (again rather boring)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (BORING unless making science volcanoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (Salty, and *sigh* you know, boring)
  • lots of chocolate chips (recipe says 2 cups but I usually go with at least 3!)

Here I am "sampling" the boring ingredients while at the same time packing the brown sugar tightly!

You will also need the following "wet" ingredients:
  • 1 cup of unsalted butter that has been left wrapped on the counter for a few hours and can be easily squished with your finger. (Not really boring per se, but not super-interesting either - although squishing it is fun!)
  • 2 large eggs (which are blechy gooey things that come from inside chickens)
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla (These are very important cookies please use the real stuff!)
Take the flour, baking soda and salt and mix them together with a fork or spoon to make sure everything is well mixed. Set aside (mostly 'cause this bowl of stuff is a yawner!).

Put the butter in another, bigger, bowl than you think you'll need. Eventually Everything will go into that bowl, so it should be pretty big!

Using the mixer, mix up the butter as best you can. Usually when it thinks that it is pineapple it is mixed up enough.

Now, slowly scoop out the brown sugar from the measuring cup. don't put it all in at once 'cause that will make a mess. Add about 1/4 at a time, let it mix and add more. Do the same with the granulated sugar.

Keep mixing and mixing and mixing and mixing until you're bored, then mix more until the butter only has small sugar grains in it (hint: test frequently as this is yummy!). Once you're really tired of mixing this stuff, add the eggs and the vanilla and make sure they are all mixed up and dizzy.

You should end up with a squishy gooey mass at the bottom of the bowl that is ready for you to add the glue (flour) and the Chocolate!

Now here you have options! If you have a hand mixer make sure it is rated for "cookie dough". If it isn't, break out the wooden spoon and the biceps! If you have s stand mixer you should be fine!

Now start mixing again (as if you haven't done enough already) using a slower speed and start adding the flour. You are using too fast a speed if the flour comes back up into your face and everywhere. Stop when you run out of boring flour to add. Do not beat the dough longer than you have to. If should form a sort of soft doughy blob.

Now for the best part. Grab a mixing spoon or by hand, add one dumptruck... err....the chocolate chips (and oatmeal) to the blob. Keep adding chocolate chips and stirring. Add some more chocolate chips and keep adding chocolate chips. People should by now be saying: "Whoa! that's a LOT of chocolate!" You should be looking at chocolate chips with cookie dough holding them together. Add exactly two more chocolate chips and you're done the mixing part!

Take a couple cookie sheets, cover them with parchment paper.

Take a spoon or go wash your hands and use them.

Take some of the dough, make sure if tastes all right. If it's good then take the spoon or your hand and scoop out about 1 tbsp of dough and place it on the cookie sheet. Keep doing this until you have 12 - 16 pieces of evenly-spaced dough.

Bake in the 375 degree oven for about 10 - 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and wait a couple minutes. This is difficult but essential so that the cookies "set" before you try to lift them - although if you've allowed yourself to eat only the broken cookies, why wait? Place cookies onto a cooling rack. Let cool for a couple minutes before eating 'cause chocolate gets way hot and if you burn the roof of your mouth you won't enjoy any more cookies for a while. Trust me, I know!

Enjoy with milk.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What Coffee Addiction?

So it would appear that I have a teensy coffee addiction.

I say teensy because I personally don't think it's a problem, but others have commented:

personaltxr @Biff_da_Bear Good God man! You have an unnatural fixation with coffee... We need to get you some new hobbies! 1 day ago from TweetDeck

I tend to post quite frequently about coffee:

Biff_da_Bear The best part of a latte is licking the foam off of the spoon handle once you've stirred it! Coffee number 3 is fancy-ish but yummy. 4 days ago from TweetDeck


Biff_da_Bear What is it about the thought, smell and taste of coffee that is so appealing? Almost the perfect drink! 6 days ago from TweetDeck

and this blockbuster serial Tweet:
Biff_da_Bear I forgot to tweet my second treat! After a great supper Saturday I brewed up some 100% Kona Peaberry coffee! Now normally coffee is a utilitarian drink for me. Eye-opener or pick me up. I deliberately made the choice to make this pot of coffee however for the enjoyment of it! And what joy! First the smell. I have always loved the smell of roasted coffee. Opening the vacuum seal I first pulled the sides of the bag apart like a big inhale, gently pushed the air out and smelled heaven. Nice roast nothing burnt Just coffee! Grinding the beans and adding filtered water to the pot, I switched it on and waited to pounce. And now for the pour! No oily residue! No grounds, and no sharpness to the smell. First sip.. No milk or sugar! And yum! Nice berry taste, no real acid, silk on the tongue! Nice sharp middle, and a hint of chocolate at the finish. I added some milk to emphasize the creaminess And LOVED it with the dark chocolate covered macadamia nut candies it came with! The bear might have to move to Hawaii!!
It has become such a normal part of everyday bear life that I think nothing of demanding to be posed in front of a mug or a cup -- or anything really, that is coffee related.

My name is Biff, I am a coffee addict, and I am proud of it!